The transition from military to civilian life can be fraught with emotional challenges, but practical things like getting a job, finding a place to live and paying bills can be just as difficult. Many veterans entered the military young, having never received much guidance about money management. If they've never spent much time as adults out of uniform, they are likely to need extra help to learning to handle debt and homeownership issues, and advice on creating a personal financial plan.
When Mechel Lashawn Glass returned from her deployment as an Army intelligence analyst in Turkey during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, she moved back in with her parents. Glass had joined the military and left home at 17; she returned home as an adult, but without a job or a home.
"There used to be a two-year transition for veterans before they left service so they could put a plan in place and decide where they wanted to live and what they want to do with the rest of their lives as civilians," says Glass. "Now with the drawdown, many veterans are given 30 to 60 days' notice to leave the military and start a new life. The emotional, physical, and behavioral challenges for veterans are unique because so many of them have been overseas for years and don't really know where to begin. They usually go home but find that their families and friends have all changed or even moved away."
A Hard Homecoming
Glass stayed with her parents for a little while but the emotional trauma of her deployment left her withdrawn and difficult to communicate with, she says, so her mother asked her to leave the house. She eventually pulled herself together, found an entry-level job with IBM, and used her military benefits to go to college and eventually get a better position with the company. Today she is vice president of education for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions.
Glass says that many veterans face four major challenges.
Glass says her résumé wasn't that good when she looked for her first job after deployment, but that IBM embraced her military experience and loved her sense of discipline and work ethic. For those looking for help, she says that the Veterans Affairs department has a career center and programs to help vets find jobs and that the Department of Labor has a program to help vets reconfigure their résumés to explain how their experience could benefit a private employer.
But it's different in the military, where, she says, there's usually no credit check until you want to apply for a job that needs a security clearance. "Debt problems can keep you from getting the clearance you need, which means you can't get the job you want." Glass recommends tackling the debt one balance at a time. Veterans who need more help should look for a nonprofit credit counseling service.
Dealing with housing problems. Glass says it's traditional for many members of the military to buy a home near the base where they're stationed and then sell in two or three years when they're relocated. But the housing crisis left many service personnel underwater and unable to sell their homes. That, coupled with the difficulty in obtaining civilian employment, has caused many veterans to lack the means to maintain their mortgage payments. Glass says one option is to refinance with a VA home loan.
"Any vets who are having trouble paying their mortgage should go to their lender and tell them they're a vet and ask for programs that could help them keep their home," says Glass. "If that doesn't work, then go to a nonprofit counseling agency that can act as an intermediary and work through the situation with a lender."
Signing up for benefits. "Most vets don't want to ask for help, but it can be hard to come out of deployment and pay for everything yourself for the first time in your life and to find employment quickly enough," says Glass. She says VA.gov is the place to start looking for the variety of programs and benefits that can help servicemen and -women get on their feet as civilians.
Veterans needn't try to navigate these challenges on their own. Reaching out for the assistance that is available through government and military programs, as well as putting into play a personal financial action plan, can help ease the stresses of returning to civilian life.
Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.